by Rachel Caine

When I was growing up, I was sheltered. Really sheltered. I still remember the first book I read that had a different kind of sexual experience in it: Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, which featured aliens whose sexuality could, and did, change from male to female and back again. It was a shocking, exciting read for me at sixteen, and although it didn’t so much deal with themes of homosexuality, it certainly broke free completely of the restraints of the world I’d always known, in which sexuality was a fixed constant.

And I loved it

Next, I ran into Mercedes Lackey’s Herald Mage books, and absolutely adored them; the gay characters were strong, likable protagonists, and I ached for their troubles and dangers. I later found Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, in which the two main male characters were lovers; I found Phillip Jose Farmer’s novels, which celebrated all kinds of sexual experiences in a SF/F setting. Theodore Sturgeon fascinated and disturbed me with a variety of tales that questioned the established status quo.

And here’s the funny thing: I enjoyed the books not as messages, but as stories. I neither sought out books with different sexual experiences nor avoided them, because I was fascinated with all types of stories and characters … gay, straight, androgynous, chaste, utterly alien, I was cool with it all. To me, encountering and enjoying stories with a different experience was perfectly normal, because I was choosing stories purely for what they had to offer — whether that was aliens invading, or hobbits questing, or ghosts haunting. I devoured everything, and accepted everything.

And I honestly believe that it was because I’d grown up sheltered. I didn’t have a firm fix on what the world was, really; I had a vast, uncolored canvas of experience, and the books I encountered helped me fill it in, slowly but surely, in the patches where I had no personal experience at all until much, much later.

I am still grateful to Ursula LeGuin, Mercedes Lackey, Theodore Sturgeon, Ellen Kushner, and so many more authors for helping a sheltered, isolated kid learn how to appreciate the vast beauty of human experience, and love. Some day, I hope to be worthy to stand in that company, even at the back, holding the coats.

Until then … I’ll keep working to be braver, and better.

Rachel Caine is the author of the YA series The Morganville Vampires as well as several books for adults including The Weather Warden series  and  Outcast Season. She tweets  @rachelcaine and can be found blogging at